‘The Game’s Afoot’ is a hilarious whodunit

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‘The Game’s Afoot’ is a hilarious whodunit
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By Jordan Wright (Photo/Matt Liptak)

Sherlock Holmes portrayer William Gillette (John Henderson) lives with his dowager mother Martha (Patricia Spencer Smith) in his newly acquired mansion on the Connecticut River near East Haddam, Conn.

He is nursing a gunshot wound he sustained from an unknown assailant while performing at the Palace Theatre on Christmas Eve, and he has invited the cast in his long-running, self-produced play to dine and dish.

Gillette describes his portrayal of Holmes as, “A play about a man of reason who stands up for the cause of justice.” All very high-minded stuff.

Actors-as-actors in a whodunit is playwright Ken Ludwig’s premise in “The Game’s Afoot” at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. Now you can always expect high hat hijinks from a Ludwig play, but when the characters are actors you’re doubling down.

Gillette’s sophisticated troupe is full of Class-A emoters who swan around quoting Shakespeare, Keats, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and dozens of writers and notable actors throughout the course of the action. Add to that tons of snappy repartee, snide asides, glamorous gowns from costume designers Jean Schlicting and Kit Sibley and murder. Oh yes, there is murder and mayhem galore.

Simon (Joe Quinn) and Aggie (Maureen R. Goldman) and Felix (Chuck Leonard) and Madge (Pam Kasenetz), two couples who are dinner guests, are shocked when renowned theater critic and columnist Daria Chase (Melissa Dunlap) arrives under the guise of doing a puff piece on Gillette.

“Everyone wants publicity!” she declares. I’ll admit Martha’s description of Daria ­— “She was ruthless.  She was evil.  She was a theater critic, for God’s sake!” —was my favorite line of the play and Ludwig’s plum chance to get in a dig.

In one of the most hilarious scenes, Daria conducts a séance to intuit the identity of the murderer, but it only convolutes the entire purpose and draws the others’ motives into question.

Frank Pasqualino directs a crack cast in this tidy comedy filled with outstanding performances by Henderson, who is absolutely brilliant, Kasenetz, Dunlap and Smith. Set designer John Downing draws on the original Gillette castle — yes, Gillette was a real actor — using medieval armaments as decor and a clever “magic” door.

How LTA’s compact stage affords the sense of being in a mansion is anathema to everything conceivable about a small theater. Yet Downing achieves the impossible. Heads up: Watch for Michelle Fletcher who enters during a snowstorm to give a scene-stealing performance as Inspector Goring, a star-struck wannabe actor.

In all, “The Game’s Afoot” provides a hilarious whodunit to fans of everything from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie, and evokes the zany 1980s cult favorite, “Clue.”

“The Game’s Afoot” runs through February 7 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St. For tickets and information call the box office at 703-683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

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